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Industry responds to UK regulator’s decision on Viagogo/StubHub merger

By | Published on Wednesday 3 February 2021


Groups and individuals who campaign against for-profit online ticket touting have responded to the news that Viagogo is being forced to sell off all of StubHub’s operations outside of North America, in order to get approval from the UK competition regulator for the year-old acquisition of its rival secondary ticketing platform.

After a lengthy investigation, the UK’s Competition & Markets Authority concluded that a combined Viagogo/StubHub would totally dominate for-profit ticket touting within the British market, and therefore the merger of the two companies would “lead to a substantial reduction in competition in the secondary ticketing market” potentially negatively impacting consumers.

Although Viagogo disputed the market dominance claims – arguing it also competed with primary ticketing firms and face-value ticket exchanges – the often controversial ticket resale company nevertheless proposed remedies to the CMA to allay its competition concerns.

The most recent of those proposed remedies was the one the CMA ultimately accepted, a sale of all of StubHub’s operations outside of North America. That may seem like a significant concession, although Viagogo’s $4 billion purchase of StubHub was primarily about securing a dominant position in the North American market, where the latter is a much bigger player than the former.

In its statement yesterday, the CMA added that it will “determine key conditions of the sale, such as the right of the purchaser to use the StubHub brand for the next ten years”. It will also have to approve the purchaser of the business before any sale goes through.

Adam Webb of the anti-touting FanFair Alliance yesterday confirmed that his organisation would now follow the sale of the StubHub business outside of North America very closely.

“Tackling this hugely controversial $4 billion merger was always going to be tough for regulators and we welcome the CMA’s hard work during this investigation”, he said. “Going forward, the most pertinent question will be the identity of potential buyers”.

“Practically all of StubHub’s value is in the company’s North American operation”, he went on. “Aside from the acquisition costs, anyone wishing to operate a successful uncapped ticket resale business in the UK would require two things: significant relationships with large-scale ticket touts to supply inventory, and deep enough pockets to outspend Viagogo on Google search advertising”.

“That might be good for Google and it might be good for ticket touts”, he added. “But we need a conclusion that’s good for UK consumers, and stops them being ripped off”.

Other campaigners welcomed the CMA’s decision, though stressed that the focus remained on better regulating Viagogo, StubHub and all the other for-profit ticket resale platforms, in the UK and beyond.

Sharon Hodgson MP, a long-time campaigner against for-profit ticket touting, said: “Together, Viagogo and StubHub have a market share of more than 90% of the secondary ticket industry. It is therefore welcome news that their merger cannot go ahead”.

“However, this will give no relief to the tens of thousands of fans who have already been ripped off by these websites, or those who may fall victim to their parasitical business models in the future”, she added. “We now need to see the secondary ticket market properly regulated so consumers can once again trust the platforms they use. That means limits on advertising and immediate and tough action as soon as evidence is brought forward of consumer law being broken”.

Sam Shemtob of the Face-value European Alliance For Ticketing also commended the CMA on its decision, and FanFair’s work campaigning for the Viagogo/StubHub merger to be properly scrutinised. However, he echoed the calls for further better regulation of the secondary ticketing market, especially in those European countries where such regulation is somewhat lacking at the moment.

“We welcome the CMA’s decision, for which both it and the FanFair Alliance ought to be applauded”, he said. “The requirement will help protect the live sector across Europe from a concentration of market power from the world’s largest uncapped secondary sites”.

He went on: “When live events resume, reduced capacities and social distancing will likely lead to increased demand, making it more important than ever that fans can see their favourite bands at the prices intended. FEAT is working hard to make this possible, both with regulators and by developing best practice”.

Viagogo itself has also responded to the CMA’s decision. A spokesperson for the firm said yesterday: “We are pleased to have found a remedy that is acceptable to the CMA that will allow everyone involved to move forward with clarity and certainty. Importantly, both Viagogo and StubHub will continue to provide a safe and secure platform for people to buy and sell tickets to events all over the world”.

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